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Why (and How) Your Consulting Firm Should Be Funny

Do you regularly make your clients and prospects laugh? On purpose, I mean. There’s good reason to spill humor all over your consulting firm’s work.

My team’s extensive, proprietary research among consulting firm leaders suggests you’ve been hilarious. Not recently, of course, but before you led a consulting firm. Or, perhaps, before you had teenagers.

Well, bring the fun back, Jack!

Making consulting playful is good for your health, as proven by the fact that “consulting” can be rearranged to spell “lung” and “tonsil.” *

It’s also good for your firm, as I’ve discussed here and here and here.

Funny Firms Win More Clients, Better Clients, and Higher Fees

Laughing with your prospective clients delivers large doses of dopamine, serotonin and cash, lifting everyone’s moods and your bank balance.*

Laughter also triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone that encourages social bonding, boosts trust, and accelerates information sharing. And, as you know, building trust and gathering information are two keys to winning consulting engagements.

Proof: People who watched a funny video in a study revealed 30% more personal information than those who watched a serious video.

More proof: In an oft-cited, but impossible to find study by O’Quinn and Aronoff, participants negotiated an expensive purchase. Sellers who jokingly included “my pet frog” in the final offer received an 18% jump in value compared to participants who didn’t hop on the humor approach.

Remember also that clients who laugh with you are more fun to collaborate with, make your days go faster and improve your mood outside of work hours.

5 Steps to Being a Funnier Consulting Firm

Practice Laughing

What’s your daily count of chortling, chuckling, thigh-slapping and holding your sides because they hurt (from laughing, not gas or appendicitis)? If it’s below three, you need practice.

As part of your daily ritual, visit sources that activate your laugh reflex. You can turn to funny videos, comedy routines, emails from your hysterical friend Sandy, or anything else that tickles your funny bone.

Prepare Your Humor in Advance

Humor needn’t be spontaneous. Stand up comics polish their routines over months or years, then trot out the exact same jokes every performance.

For instance, when asking the Heart Attack Question to establish a prospect’s budget, I always explain, “I’ve found that giving my clients cardiac arrest is bad for business.” Not the funniest line in the world, but prospects always laugh.

Everyone in your consulting firm should develop at least a handful of reliable, laugh-inducing lines they can bust out to lighten the mood with clients.

Be Self-Deprecating… Confidently

Make fun of yourself and your consulting firm. That behavior humanizes you, makes you appear more self-assured and can defuse tension.

First, though, you have to firmly embrace confidence in yourself and your consulting firm. If you’re feeling inferior (or you believe your prospect views you as inferior), then your self-deprecation may reinforce that unhelpful perspective and cost your business.

Be You, Only Funnier. But Still You

You’re not Jerry Seinfeld. If you were, you wouldn’t be reading this article. Don’t try to be him. Or anyone else, for that matter—even a very funny consultant whom you admire. Trying to be someone else who’s funny isn’t authentic and doesn’t work.

Just be you. Unless you’re mean. Then be someone else.

Engage Your Clients

Share the fun with your consulting firm’s clients. Trade one-liners with them.

Definitely laugh at your clients’ jokes, even if they’re only modestly funny—you’ll find yourself laughing at the fact that you’re laughing.

And adopt the golden rule of improv humor: whatever (attempt at humor) your client makes, go with it and build on it. Don’t contradict it.

Important Watchouts

Be Mindful of Cultural Differences

Not every joke, or even every type of humor, works well in every culture. If your consulting firm’s work crosses multiple languages and countries, solicit feedback from native language speakers on whether your intended joke will fall flat. (Or rise bumpy?)

Never Disparage or Belittle Another Person

You may be the butt of your own humor. Everyone else, including teammates, is off limits when you’re talking with a consulting client or prospect.

Use Humor in Moderate Doses

Your goal is to build trust, enjoy your work and win clients. Your goal is not to undermine your professionalism or look like a clown.

Two funny lines during a presentation lifts the mood. Two funny lines on every page of the presentation strips away all the value of your work.

Don’t Make Light of Someone’s Serious Situation

Your consulting firm’s prospect may be dealing with financial stress, career risk or some other troubling problem. Those should not be the target for your humor, else you’ll be perceived as insensitive, lose the consulting project and jeopardize relationships.

Be Wary of Sarcasm

Sarcasm can be funny. However, it’s notoriously difficult to communicate in writing and misinterpreted sarcasm can confuse your clients and damage your relationships.

Therefore, if you’re naturally sarcastic, save your humor for times when you’re voice-to-voice with your consulting clients.

Don’t Self-Deprecate an Essential Skill Set

While self-deprecating humor is good (see above); you’ll undermine your consulting firm’s position if you make light of essential attributes.

For instance, you won’t improve your consulting firm’s win rate with statements like, “Our work is like tax refund checks—you always wait longer than you’d like and the benefits are less than you expected (ho ho ho).”

Do you employ humor in your consulting? Share a comment below. Or a joke. Or type in something serious. Your comment doesn’t have to be clever—that’s the whole point. Just join the conversation.

  1. frank farone
    February 3, 2021 at 6:01 am Reply

    laughter is the best medicine!
    thanks David, agree 100% and always good to reinforce, especially during times like this!

    • David A. Fields
      February 3, 2021 at 6:26 am Reply

      Aha! If only governments around the world had remembered about the laughter/medicine thing, they could have asked pharmaceutical companies to develop and distribute little bottles of injectable, high-density humor. Operation “Warped Speed.” I suppose there could be a problem with distribution at a bazillion degrees below zero.

      (Here in the Northeast they could have asked the municipal plow drivers to toss vials out the window immediately before covering the vaccine and our driveways with a six-foot high wall of compacted snow.)

      I appreciate you jumping into the fray, Frank!

      • Franziska
        February 3, 2021 at 3:14 pm Reply

        Consulting opportunity around “how humor helps improve COVID recovery rates/lowers adverse vaccine reactions”?
        And if you laugh enough, do you generate extra heat that helps with your snow problem? Of course you’ll have to refuel yourself with (hot) chocolate…

        • David A. Fields
          February 3, 2021 at 8:39 pm

          Oooh, that’s fancy shmancy dot-connecting, Franziska. Also, some important medical questions. Does your temperature rise when you laugh? When someone frowns and shoots you a chilly look, is it literally cooler?

          Thanks for raising these important issues, Franziska. Oh, and for commenting too!

  2. Robin Goldsmith
    February 3, 2021 at 7:09 am Reply

    How I envy your cartoon figures. Do you draw them freehand or have some kind of tool?

    • David A. Fields
      February 3, 2021 at 7:29 am Reply

      If I reveal that the illustrations are actually etchings, carved in blocks of chocolate with a screwdriver, would that imply they’re created freehand or using a tool? (They’re not, and I don’t, but I’m curious now.)

      I draw the illustrations using a stylus on my laptop (computer), similar in approach to how a competent artist would draw using a pencil and paper.

      Thanks for asking, Robin, and even more for reading and commenting.

  3. Howard Barrett
    February 3, 2021 at 7:37 am Reply

    Great piece David! Good of you to post this.
    In over 30 year in practice-I have always believed in the Value of Humour.
    Notwithstanding- I had a client senior team member actually tell upper managment that he thought I was “funny, too often”-which, other than being incorrect-was hysterical!

    • David A. Fields
      February 3, 2021 at 7:46 am Reply

      Clearly, your client misplaced the punctuation when relaying his thoughts to upper management. He meant to say, “Howard is extremely bright. And funny too, often.”

      Many American consultants would also point out that you could increase your value per letter by cleverly removing the (second) U in humor.

      I appreciate you sharing the funny story, Howard. Clients can be very amusing, even when they don’t intend to be.

  4. Mary Ann Dekker
    February 3, 2021 at 9:14 am Reply

    Another great article, David. Love your humor as always. Your opening line here made me laugh out loud, and still chuckling. And the “parenthesed” word “computer” in your response to Robin, above, made me smile. Your knack for subtlety is key. Thanks for the feel-good study!

    • David A. Fields
      February 3, 2021 at 9:54 am Reply

      Thanks for verbalizing your appreciation, Mary Ann. Of course, I’m disappointed you hadn’t just slurped a big mouthful of morning smoothie before reading the opening line, but am glad you don’t have to clean up the spray that could have resulted.

      Truly, I’m glad you chimed in today, Mary Ann.

  5. Chris P.
    February 3, 2021 at 9:37 am Reply

    You’re speaking to me! I started off a BD call the other day with “I just got fired from a client the other day… they were thrilled with my work for the last 4 years! We were able to provide them support of over 7 different functions on and off for the annual cost of 1.5 FTE – there’s no way they’d be able to hire and maintain that headcount over that timeframe. Instead, they were able to bootstrap until they received funding for commercial growth.”

    Worst case, I’m making myself laugh!

    • David A. Fields
      February 3, 2021 at 10:00 am Reply

      Exactly, Chris! As long as you’re having fun, you’re headed in the right direction. Besides, who needs clients?

      Wait. Belay that last comment. Clients are helpful, if for no other reason than to provide stories for consultants to trade online.

      I’m glad to hear from you, Chris.

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